But almost as interesting is the broader implication of Sanger’s piece, which is that Romney is surrounded by foreign policy experts frustrated enough with him to feed the Times a negative story, to the point of implying that Romney doesn’t thoroughly understand or possibly even even care much about foreign affairs.
If I were a Republican foreign policy professional inclined to work for the Romney campaign, I imagine that I would be very frustrated, too. Romney often doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but he can’t stop talking about these issues because he thinks they make for good rhetorical attacks. He fashioned his No Apology attack years ago, and he intends to keep using it, no matter how many times it forces him to paint himself into a corner or overreach on a foreign policy question.
It would be one thing if Romney didn’t talk about these issues because he doesn’t understand them or care about them. That’s true of many politicians. The natural response in those cases is to fall back on vague, conventional rhetoric that doesn’t commit a candidate to many specifics. That might annoy his foreign policy advisers, but it wouldn’t worry them that much. The practical solution would be for the candidate to focus his attention elsewhere, and then leave the specific criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy to advisers and surrogates. As Noah pointed out again recently, it makes no sense for Romney to run on foreign policy. It is already a losing set of issues for him, and his statements over the last few months have made it worse. The Sanger story suggests that some of his foreign policy advisers recognize that Romney is sabotaging his own campaign, and they want to make their objections known before Romney strikes again with another blunder.
One of the more interesting claims in the article is that Romney wrote his very bad anti-START op-ed “without much input from his staff.” Frankly, if I were a Romney staffer, I would want to distance myself from that disastrous op-ed, too, so I’m not sure that I believe this. Who would want to take credit for an op-ed that was as thoroughly mocked as that one was? Assuming that it’s true, how would we be able to tell the difference from an op-ed that includes a lot of input from staffers? Many of Romney’s claims in that op-ed were just recycled Heritage Foundation talking points on the treaty, and many of them appeared repeatedly in other anti-treaty editorials and columns by other Republicans opposed to ratification. There was never much of a good argument against the treaty, but it was a high-profile issue associated with Obama, and that must have made Romney think that it would make a good target. As he often is on this subject, Romney was very wrong.